Over half the birthing facilities in Ohio are being equipped with an RFID infant protection system placed on infants at birth to prevent them from being abducted from the hospital or from being given to the wrong mother.
“Standard protocol in the hospitals using the VeriChip system is that the baby receives an RFID anklet at birth and the mother receives a matching wristband,” VeriChip spokeswoman Allison Tomek told WND. “The mothers are not asked.”
VeriChip Corp., a publicly listed company headquartered in Delray Beach, Fla., is marketing though its wholly-owned subsidiary, Xmark, a HUGS brand tag-and-bracelet infant security system. The RFID tag is attached to an infant at birth by an ankle bracelet that is detected by monitors positioned throughout the hospital.
Critics charge the VeriChip system is an intrusive technology solution to a problem that is rare.
“The VeriChip infant security system is a technology looking for a solution,” said Katherine Albrecht, founder and director of CASPIAN, Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering.
“Baby snatching from hospital facilities is a diaper full of nonsense,” Albrecht told WND.
She cited a January 2003 report from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children concluding that of approximately 4.2 million births per year at 3,500 birthing centers in the U.S., abductions by non-family members are estimated at between zero and 12 per year. Of those, the mother is re-united with the child 95 percent of the time.
“Ironically, relying on RFID technology could end up making a rare occurrence more likely,” Albrecht said. “Once hospital staffers rely on computer systems to track the human inventory in their care, they become less vigilant.”
The HUGS system can detect if the RFID tag is lifted from the baby’s skin, if the ankle strap broken or if the baby’s RFID tag and the mother’s don’t match.
If a newborn is removed from the ward without authorization or a baby is placed with the wrong mother, the system triggers an alarm that can cause hospital entrances and exits to lock shut.
“The infant abductions that do occur tend to happen in larger, more impersonal hospitals,” Albrecht emphasized.
“We actually investigated an abduction that involved a baby who was wearing an RFID ankle bracelet at the time of the abduction,” Albrecht said. “What happened was a woman dressed up in hospital scrubs. Even though the other staffers in the maternity ward did not recognize this woman, nobody reported her, because they thought the RFID system would take care of any problem.”
The woman figured out how to turn the RFID system off, Albrecht said, ‘and she just walked right out of the hospital carrying the baby, without anybody stopping her.”
VeriChip objects, claiming its RFID anklet-and-bracelet infant security system has prevented baby abductions. Spokeswoman Tomek, however, declined to cite specific proof, claiming privacy issues and the need to keep hospital security procedures confidential.
The VeriChip RFID anklets and bracelets are removed by the birthing facility when the mothers and babies are released.
HUGS system RFID anklets and bracelets are not equipped with GPS technology.
VeriChip also produces a human implantable RFID chip that is marketed in the health care area for chronic diseases, including diabetes or stroke, or memory impairment illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease.
“The only viable part of the VeriChip market right now is this infant security system,” Albrecht told WND. “People in the United States don’t want the human implantable RFID chips VeriChip thought was going to be the core of their business.”
Albrecht said VeriChip hopes eventually there will be a mandatory program such as the UK has for implanting RFID chips in prisoners.”
The VeriChip human implantable RFID chip was cleared for medical use in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration in October 2004.
VeriChip currently has a market capitalization of about $20 million and 2006 sales of more than $27 million.
VeriChip stock closed yesterday at $2.02 a share.